I have a hard time calling a series in late-May important. The MLB season just passed the quarter mark, and there are still well over a hundred games to play, which means that every last place team in baseball has a chance to rebound, and every first place team in baseball has a chance to falter. But this weekend’s series against the Atlanta Braves, who the Washington Nationals have been competing against for first place all season, feels different.
A baseball season is about momentum and be able to stop losing streaks. The Nationals certainly have the pitching to do that. Their starting rotation gives up by far a league-low 3.27 runs per game, while the entire pitching staff has a 2.92 ERA. Both of those numbers are insanely low. They’re about to be challenged this weekend, though.
Atlanta’s offense is one of the most prolific in the National League. They average 4.87 runs per game, which is good for second-best in the NL. Meanwhile, the Nationals 3.70 runs scored per game puts them fourth from the bottom in the NL. That number could tick up a bit this weekend if they can get to a team with average pitching numbers.
If the Nats really want to make a statement on this division, it starts with this series. It’s the second of five straight series against NL East rivals, and the Nats get the Braves twice in those five series. If the Nats can win both series, they can start to expand their lead on the NL East.
A couple-game lead going into June can disappear in an instant, but the longer the Nats are in first place, the more believable it will be that they are a first place team, both inside and outside the clubhouse. The Braves and Nats are two different teams in their styles and what makes them successful; the Braves rely on bats while the Nats rely on arms. History has shown that pitching wins games, especially in the playoffs, and the Nats can start to show why they’re the premiere team in the division if they go above .500 in this five-series run.
Injuries continue to plague the Nats more than most other teams in baseball, and if they can continue winning in what might be the hardest stretch in their schedule this season, it will bode well for the rest of the season. Remember, the Nats will get back Michael Morse, Brad Lidge, and Drew Storen in the next couple of months, while Jayson Werth may be back for a crucial September playoff push. If the team can win now without these guys, there’s no telling how good it could get.
For now, let’s put this game as moderately important on the scale of irrelevant to World Series Game 7. It’s probably the most important series so far this season for the Nats, but there are still more than four full months of baseball to be played.